Multiple sites rich in water ice found on Mars

An aerial view of an ice deposit discovered on Mars marked in blue

They found the ice at the northern and southern hemispheres of Mars, which is equivalent to Earth's regions like South America or Scotland, and believe it could "be a useful source of water for future human exploration of the red planet", they wrote. Now, Colin Dundas and colleagues have pinpointed eight locations, using the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), where steep, pole-facing slopes created by erosion expose substantial quantities of sub-surface ice. Whilst water ice is known to be present in some locations on Mars, many questions remain about its layering, thickness, purity, and extent. In that time, it has provided us with the most detailed maps of Mars we have yet, as well as revealing the composition of the surface features, including finding deposits of clay, gypsum and other minerals.

The results revealed massive subsurface ice sheets on the planet extending from just below the surface to a depth of at least 100 meters (328ft). Since there are few craters on the surface at these sites, the authors propose that the ice was formed relatively recently.

"We've found a new window into the ice for study, which we hope will be of interest to those interested in all aspects of ice on Mars and its history, " The Washington Post reported quoting Colin Dundas, a member of the US Geological Survey's Astrogeology Science Center in Arizona and an author of a report published Thursday in the journal Science.

One of the co-authors of the study, planetary scientist Shane Byrne, said: "Here we have what we think is nearly pure water ice buried just below the surface".

An aerial view highlighting a small cross-section of an ice deposit found on Mars

This exposed ice is slowly sublimating away, turning directly from solid to vapour, because even though temperatures on Mars are well below freezing, the air pressure is too thin for the ice to hold its solid shape.

"You can go out with a bucket and shovel and just collect as much water as you need".

"Humans need water wherever they go, and it's very heavy to carry with you. It's also much closer to places humans would probably land as opposed to the polar caps, which are very inhospitable".

Eight scarps, with slopes as steep as 55 degrees, reveal new information about the internal layered structure of previously detected underground ice sheets in Mars' middle latitudes, the United States space agency said.

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